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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Friends, Lovers & Lunatics' Not Played for Laughs

November 10, 1989|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Friends, Lovers & Lunatics" (AMC Century 14 and Santa Ana Main Place), a stale, contrived romantic comedy, is one of those wretchedly written films that give the mainstream Canadian cinema such a bad name. Not helping matters is that director Stephen Withrow seems to regard each one of writer Michael Taav's unfunny lines as witty as a Billy Wilder gag.

A devil-may-care commercial artist (Daniel Stern), having been fired, tries to get his estranged wife (Sheila McCarthy) to take him back, only to end up pursuing her and her nerdy new boyfriend (Damir Andrei) when they take off for a holiday in the mountains. On the way, Stern crosses paths with a pretty girl (Deborah Foreman, who had the title role in "Valley Girl") who's trying to put as much distance as possible between herself and her boyfriend, a hotheaded, leather-jacketed biker (Page Fletcher, a Rutger Hauer carbon). Abetted by a numskull truck driver (Elias Koteas), the biker hits the road, mistakenly believing that Foreman has run off with Andrei rather than with Stern.

There have been funny films turned out with less than this to go on, but this sluggish picture (rated a rather severe R), in addition to its callow dialogue, has been so poorly structured that it has everyone converging at Andrei's cabin so early on that the last half-hour stretches interminably. Some talented actors struggle mightily to make something out of nothing, but all that shows is the effort expended. It's depressing to watch the tall, intense Stern, who has been so invaluable in films from "Breaking Away" and "Diner" to "Hannah and Her Sisters" and "Born in East L.A.," mired in such a hopeless undertaking. The same goes for the others, especially the waif-like McCarthy, who was wonderful as the wistful, naive heroine of "I've Heard the Mermaids Singing."

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